Their connection started with sushi, a Ferrari and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Fifteen years ago, in 2001, ahead of the release of her platinum-selling album Miss E… So Addictive, Missy Elliott sought out the talents of video director Dave Meyers to begin a journey. Doubling down on her knack for bringing music to life, the eccentric rapstress forged a bond that began with one of her most notable clips to date: “Get Ur Freak On.” In the confines of a dark, green, alternate universe, the duo would find their magic. Magic that had been a dream of Missy’s for decades thanks to another music video pioneer.
“Growing up, I used to watch Michael [Jackson’s] videos,” she recalls. “And I always said, ‘If I become an artist, I want people to run to the TV and see what I’m gonna do.’ Because I know that’s what I did for Michael’s videos. I had to be in front of that TV when it world-premiered.”
Gone are the days of 106 & Park – when Missy Elliott and the like would have viewers salivating for an IRL depiction of their favorite songs. But thanks to the Internet, the nostalgia lives on. Pull up any of her classics on YouTube and each four-minute experience is likely to have memories rushing in. From stone-colored bodies to 3D flying spit to dancing bellhops in quirky hotels to reflections of Aaliyah’s face in waves of water, each distinct scene evokes a throwback feeling. This time capsule of sorts is simply a result of compatible idiosyncrasies.
“It was that special combo of her seeking different visuals and me being — to some degree — an outsider to her culture,” Meyers notes. “And I don’t mean hip-hop culture, but acclimating to Missy and her Virginia roots and how she saw the world, that special combo of perfectionism that she brought to the table.
In celebration of Miss E… So Addictive, Missy Elliott and Dave Meyers reflect on nearly two decades of pushing the hip-hop visual envelope.
"Get Ur Freak On"
Dave: What I remember on “Get Ur Freak On” is I had to come up with the idea of having a second camera pointing at a wall for all her friends that were gonna show up, so that didn’t stop our shoot. You know, Busta Rhymes or Ja Rule, anybody who stopped by, we can just roll ‘em real quick and send them on their way.
Missy: These people weren’t just people that I said, ‘They’re hot. Let me grab this one.’ These people were my friends, so we had a friendship outside of music. And our friendships went back years. So when I called them up, they were like, ‘Alright. Cool. What time I gotta be there?’ It was nobody that flaked out, it was none of that. They just showed up and I’m grateful to this day.
Dave: [The set was based] off of a book I had at the time called Japanese Underground. And I mean, we really couldn’t afford to go to Japan or create actually what was in that book, a massive environment, but it gave me this idea of this underworld. This leaky, urban underworld, but mixed with moss and sort of this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, but that was the initial inspiration.
Missy: My music was so different that it allowed me to go there. I think with the music being so futuristic, it was like, just go there. We never sat down and said we’re going to change the look of videos. We didn’t even know that’s what we were doing until it came out. I always tell people, when I make songs — I make them and I think about what I’m going to do visually. So, in making that song, I knew visually, whatever it was gonna be, that that spit was gonna be in there
Dave: I don’t think you ever feel like you’re ahead of the time. What makes you feel ahead of the time is when you love something and nobody else loves it. I think we were in the middle of the time for what it was. It’s what it felt like at least. You know Missy had a sizeable budget. I was a young, excited pioneer of ‘I wanna try this. I wanna try that.’ I found somebody who wanted to play in the same sandpit with me.
"One Minute Man"
Missy: I believe the hotel idea was Dave. I don’t remember having anything to do with the hotel vibe. I knew I thought it was cool or it wouldn’t have been in there. If you go back and you listen to the things that I’m saying, you’ll see a lot — visually — you’re seeing it while I’m saying it. And so, I guess the hotel thing would kind of coincide with the title “One Minute Man.”
Dave: She has entendres or undertones of sexuality, but to me, that’s no different than the overall pursuit of club music. So she really had an ear for what was hot. What got people moving. What kind of sound and acoustics got people hyped. What felt different. And especially between her and [Timbaland] and what they were creating at the time. I think that essence procured some lyrics that might’ve been sexual. What is procured visually was the opportunity to just be way out. She was a video star in that way. She loved crazy, and we weren’t trying to be literal to the lyrics in that way.
Missy: I didn’t ever feel like I had to do exactly what would be predictable. It would’ve been predictable to have it be a sexy video, especially for “One Minute Man,” you know? That was predictable. I always think it’s great to do the unexpected. And so, I did those records. I made those records sexy but when it came to the video, I said, ‘I’m going to do something totally the opposite of what this record was saying.’
Dave: With Ludacris, I’d done several videos with him and really got along with him at the time. So, for me, it was like two people I love working together, so it was a lot of fun. And that ultimately led to I think Ludacris hiring me for “Stand Up.” So, it was nice. We got a little taste there to play in the weird world. And Ludacris is a little more overtly sexual and so we tackled a little bit of that in “One Minute Man” and built him off of a maintenance man with the lyrics and made him sort of this funny, hotel maintenance man
Missy: When I brought it to Luda, he already knew what it was gonna be because we all kinda did the same thing in our videos — we thought creatively and he was down with it.
Missy: That was a tough time — a very tough time. The song came first and then [Aaliyah’s death] happened and we shot the video. And, you know, we didn’t wanna do the typical Missy, over the top, because it didn’t call for that. We just kept it light and tried to make it beautiful even during a sad moment for us.
Dave: It wasn’t like a tribute record, but she wanted to keep the image alive and I think in that one, it was kind of interesting. That particular clip of her required me to call another director and ask if I could use this footage and so that’s what I remember. I enjoyed talking to another director about Aaliyah because I had done work [with her]. I worked with Aaliyah right before that on “More Than a Woman.” It was released as her last video, but it was shot before the video that she died on. It was personal to me too. Aaliyah was wonderful. And as she was coming back to sit with me and never made it back and so it was kind of a weird emotional moment.
Missy: I started doing the split videos, and so at the time I didn’t want to do a whole video for [“4 My People"]. I said ‘I’ll just put this at the end.’ At that time, that was around the time of 9/11 too. So it was just like, ‘this is for my people,’ to make it a lighter note. That period was very heavy.
Dave: She always liked to have a second song. “One Minute Man” had two and “Get Your Freak On” had an outro of a different song and it was kind of her little formula. Funny enough, right after that time, I got a call from Prince and he wanted to do three videos in one. I forgot which album it was on, but people were playing with that dynamic of trying to get two videos in one price tag and one MTV experience.